by Jonathan Vold

Tuesday, May 31

The Swan

by Rainer Maria Rilke (a new translation)

This toil through life as yet undone
is hard; we move with ropes around
us like the artless waddle of the swan

and then death and the letting go
of a life of walking on the ground
is the swan nervously slipping in

to a water that receives him gently,
happily taking what has passed
from under him, wave by wave,

while the swan, with perfect peace and calm,
becomes forthright and regal
upon the water, rested and relaxed.

Monday, May 30

River Cinquains

water secrets
ever bending untold stories
discovers the ocean ducking behind corners
delivers the distant mountain hiding beyond the horizons
water secrets

river                                             journey
slowly turning stretching travel
reveals only ripples to a destination
of its whitewater history left to the imagination
river                                            journey

                 river crossings
                 giving me perspective
                 over the ever-bending water

Sunday, May 29

Bridge Sonnet

Each road’s another story:  paved or gravel-
Roughed or leveled, mud or dirt,
   always life extending ridge to ridge;
Down one of them I came upon a bridge
Across a valley’s hidden hurt,
   of bolted metal topped with graded gravel
Stretched from bank to bank across a river.
If not for journeys of my own
   I would take time to learn the river’s song,
The something pushing pulling it along;
   instead I turn to what is known:
The road that takes my path across the river.

God grant me all the power I have to travel
   through the shadows of each vale,
Look after me God, bless my soul, deliver
My heart my weary way from ridge to ridge
   and road to road, and with each tale to tell
Apply me steadfast to the grinding gravel
But lead me not into the mystic river
   of unknown sources heavened or helled
And let me walk instead across this bridge.

Saturday, May 28

Here And Now

I’ve other things to think about than you
and me and whether we will ever be
together anymore if ever we
were there before.  I’ve better things to do,
considering my separate point of view,
than parse the existentiality
of “us.”

(I could lose myself in metaphors
that never end (ground, sun, river and wind)
and feel the power of presence and the force
of perpetuity that even in
a moment lets me glimpse the greater course
from whence I come to where I would pretend.)

You are too far away from me
for me to see, so why should I pursue
the possibility of “we”?  And who
am I to presuppose the theory
that I am yours and you belong to me?
You are not mine, I don’t belong to you,
and maybe I was never meant for you,
and maybe we were never meant to be.

(There is a bend that hides each metaphor’s
beginning and a bend that hides each end;
I have no certainty about my source
or my conclusion.  I can’t see beyond
my current place and yet I can’t divorce
my here from there or sever now from then.
I am what I have been, will ever be
the steel, the spark, the sweat, the breath of me.)

Friday, May 27

TWL, Lines 77-93: Upon The River Of Cydnus

77     The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,
78     Glowed on the marble, where the glass
79     Held up by standards wrought with fruited vines
80     From which a golden Cupidon peeped out
81     (Another hid his eyes behind his wing)
82     Doubled the flames of sevenbranched candelabra
83     Reflecting light upon the table as
84     The glitter of her jewels rose to meet it,
85     From satin cases poured in rich profusion.
86     In vials of ivory and coloured glass
87     Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,
88     Unguent, powdered, or liquid — troubled, confused
89     And drowned the sense in odours; stirred by the air
90     That freshened from the window, these ascended
91     In fattening the prolonged candle-flames,
92     Flung their smoke into the laquearia,
93     Stirring the pattern on the coffered ceiling.

77. A BURNISH’D THRONE: Eliot: “Cf. Antony and Cleopatra, II, ii, l. 190.”

See Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra 2.2.190, 195-201.  Antony’s friend Enobarbus describes Cleopatra:

“she purs’d up his heart, upon the river of Cydnus.
...The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,
Burn'd on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes.”

IMOGEN’S CHAMBERS: See also Shakespeare, Cymbeline  2.4.84-94, 102-105, where Iachimo allusively describes what he saw of Imogen’s chambers to her husband Posthumous:

“...First, her bedchamber,
Where, I confess, I slept not, but profess
Had that was well worth watching--it was hanged
With tapestry of silk and silver; the story
Proud Cleopatra, when she met her Roman,
And Cydnus swelled above the banks, or for
The press of boats or pride: a piece of work
So bravely done, so rich, that it did strive
In workmanship and value; which I wondered
Could be so rarely and exactly wrought,
Since the true life on't was–
....The chimney
Is south the chamber, and the chimney-piece
Chaste Dian bathing: never saw I figures
So likely to report themselves.”

Dian is the wood goddess Diana, whom the hunter Actaeon saw naked while she was bathing in the forest.  See Ovid, Metamorphoses 3:206-312.  For other allusions to Actaeon and Diana, see lines 10 and 197.

80. A GOLDEN CUPIDON: Enobarbus (see note 77) continues, at Antony and Cleopatra 2.2.202-208:

“...O'er- picturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature: on each side her
  Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-coloured fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.”

Venus was the mother of Cupid and Aeneas, further alluded to in the lines to follow (see note 92, with reference to Virgil, Aeneid.  Compare the undoing and doing by the “Cupids” with the Pia being made and unmade at line 293.

See also Cymbelline 2.4.111-115 (see note 77):

“.... The roof o' the chamber
With golden cherubins is fretted: her andirons–
I had forgot them--were two winking Cupids
Of silver, each on one foot standing, nicely
Depending on their brands.”

87. STRANGE PERFUMES, which are “stirred by the air” (line 89), establish the atmosphere of this section, full of meaningful words made empty in their presentation. See note 76.5.  For the “vials of ivory” (line 86), compare the ivory pieces standing between the chess players at note 138.

92. THE LACQUEARIA: Eliot: “Laquearia. V. Aeneid, I. 726:
‘dependent lychni laquearibus aureis incensi, et noctem flammis funalia vincunt.’”

See Virgil, Aeneid 1.726-727, where laquearibus, a paneled ceiling, is translated as “gilded roofs”:

“From gilded roofs depending lamps display
Nocturnal beams, that emulate the day.”

DIDO AND AENEAS: This passage is from Virgil’s telling of the tragic romance of Carthigian Queen Dido and Aeneas from Troy; see also line 307 and notes 12, 34, 70, 231 and 307.  For the full story, see Virgil, Aeneid Books 1 and 4.  After leaving a besieged Troy, Aeneas, in search of a new homeland, came to Carthage, home of Juno, goddess of marriage. To welcome him, Dido, the Queen of Carthage, had prepared a lavish banquet.  With the intervention of Venus, Aeneas’s mother, and Cupid, his brother, Dido became smitten with Aeneas.  This would prove fateful for both Dido and Carthage.  Dido fell in love with Aeneas, and for a time they would even live together, but Aeneas would never marry her and would leave Carthage without her, ultimately finding his own place as the founder of Rome. Dido, left behind, would kill herself, and eventually Carthage would be defeated and destroyed by the Romans in the Battle of Mylae (see note 70).

Compare Dido’s feast with the royal engagement efforts for the granddaughter of Catherine the Great, wisest woman in Europe (note 45).  See also the failed efforts of Hellawes the Sorceress to seduce Sir Lancelot (note 388).

DYSFUNCTIONAL COUPLES populate, or dispopulate, the poem beyond Dido and Aeneus.  See lines 111-126 (empty talkers) and 139-172 (Lil & Albert), and notes 34 (Isolde & King Mark), (Adolf and Alexandra), 99 (Tereus & Procne), 128 (Hamlet & Ophelia) 145 (Lilith & Adam), 198 (Agamemnon & Clytemnestra), 279 (Lord Robert Dudley & Amy Robsart), 293 (Pia de Tolemei) 365 (the traveling bones wife), 388 (Hellawes and Lancelot) and 408 (howling wives, men on death beds).  For more blissful rivers, see notes 165 (a lustfully-paced courtship), 176 (a double marriage) and 291 (wedding bells).

ELIOT’S MARRIAGE was especially dysfunctional.  His wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, was perpetually troubled from 1915 until her death in 1947.  They separated in 1932 and were permanently estranged in 1938 when she was committed to a mental hospital.  See the preface to Eliot, Letters, quoting T.S. Eliot:

“To her, the marriage brought no happiness. To me, it brought
the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land.”

Thursday, May 26

Moleskin 3.3: First Job

At the somewhat ripe age of ten I got a job delivering Tribune newspapers up and down the halls of apartment buildings. The way I remember it, I took the initiative to get that job, clipping an application out of the Sunday comics section and mailing it in. It was the beginning of fifth grade, and I had seen a classmate coming to school with an inky canvas bag hanging at his side, and it immediately stirred me with envy. But more reconciling: I was never alone in that first employ; my parents must have approved, probably encouraged. I don’t recall them leading the way, but I know they were right there all along. I learned to wake up at 5 a.m. without rousing the whole house, but Mom was there at the onset, shaking me awake when my body wasn’t used to it. On Sundays, when the papers were thick and heavy, there was my dad with his station wagon, helping me to make the deliveries. Mom opened up a savings account for me and taught me how to deposit my $50.00 paychecks, and on Saturdays there was Dad again, taking me to Mr. Donut after the job was done.

Wednesday, May 25

God Birds

    In the wood, God was manifest, 
    as he was not in the sermon.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson  

Woodpeckers the size of giant crows
With jackhammers as long as their heads are wide
Drum against the hearts of hollow trees
Reverberatingly, and yet they hide
And months and years go by with nothing heard
From the great and legendary Lord God Bird.

Meanwhile, smaller packages descend
Without the tools for enigmatic echoes,
With flourishes of black and white and red
Reduced to sparrow size, and yet they peck
Away their beating purpose next to me,
Reporting how to live and simply be.
I’ve been off in the forest seeking drums,
Yet sometimes with a tap God speaks to me.

Tuesday, May 24


from Walled Gardens

I cannot wrap my mind
around God’s ways. I cannot comprehend
the shape of God, nor deign to understand
the details of God’s intricate design,
though I would try.

I cannot stretch my soul
around the grace of God. I cannot hold
the scope of God, delivered and revealed
so perfectly within my failing field
of vision. I am blind,

and yet I see
that God occurs to me as God allows,
despite these thoughts that drag their mortal chains,
beyond these dreams that lag reality,
and though my span of reason God restrains
God’s wisdom will prevail.

Within God’s house,
my reason is a guest; as God allows,
a servant soul invited to the host’s
parade; a child perpetually enrolled
in the master’s school, rewriting what’s assigned
with a crooked scrawl.

Monday, May 23

Truth: Sensing

Here on the prairie everything is true
And in your face: the sun, the wind, the rain
And all of God’s creation touches you

And you can feel the weight of it and you
Can sweat the sweet of it and know the pain
   of where you’ve been.
Here on the prairie everything is true

As sure as it is real, as good as new
And you know what will be has always been,
   will be again,
And all of God’s creation touches you

With earthy tones of yellow, brown and blue
And every range of color in between,
   each shade and stain.
Here on the prairie everything is true
But should the color of your point of view
Turn you around, just turn around again
   to where you’ve been
And all of God’s creation touches you:

The wilderness, the world that spins with you,
The marshes and the waves of wild grain.
Here on the prairie everything is true
And all of God’s creation touches you.

Sunday, May 22

Altars: Allowing

Bow down to what you know, but know as well
You’re at the mercy of God’s time and place;
Within your temples God cannot be held.

In humble service you can give yourself
To the giver of all things in sacrifice
And bow down to what you know, but know as well

As you breathe God’s air and thrive beyond the realm
Of your contrived ability to embrace,
Within your temples God cannot be held.

As you live, move and exist between heaven and hell
Within God’s great unknowable universe,
Bow down to what you know, but know as well

Within this world and of the world itself
You will inevitably find a godly place
Yet within your temples, God cannot be held.

As you find yourself at last compelled to build
Your worship house, no less your private place,
Bow down to what you know, but know as well
Within your temples, God cannot be held.

Saturday, May 21

Sacrifice: Seeking


Eclipsing black, as if in punishment,
With a heaviness he tarries through the winter,
Eating scraps by the altar, praying unrelentingly
Loud to God in case there’s something in it.

He knows just whom to bully, whom to flatter,
He’s learned to ride the sheep and avoid the fox
And he shows he’s smart enough to get the water
But cursed to never quench his thirst with rocks.

He wears the coat of a murderer, pretending
To portend with all the ravens and jackdaws,
But there his story ends: he’s doomed to die
Unsaved for all his empty-promise prayers
And unable to impress the passersby
Who know the meaning of his meaningless caws.


I look for God in every godless place
Plagues send me, sounded in retreats of prayer
To an unknown God.  I offer sacrifice

On altars built with stones of sage advice
Directed by such sheep that lead me there.
I look for God in every godless place

Of gold and silver, crafted artifice
Finely designed with dedicated care
To an unknown God.  I offer sacrifice

Wherever sheep lie down to pay the price,
Poor creatures ignorant and unaware.
I look for God in every godless place

Where emptiness reflects on every face
That peers into uncertainty, and there
To an unknown God I offer sacrifice

But carry to the altar only this
Sublime insistence: God is everywhere
I look, in every godforsaken place,
Accepting each unknowing sacrifice.

Friday, May 20

TWL, Part II: Words

76.5     II. A Game of Chess

76.5. ACT TWO: This is the “air” section, characterized by ostensibly meaningful words made empty in their presentation.  Several coarse seduction scenes are staged through a series of walls that talk (see note 8) and then some chatty marital advice is set to a bartender’s “last call” mantra (lines 139-172).  All of this follows the beat of dying words in disguise, by the last gasps of Hamlet and the departing words of Ophelia (note 4, and lines 128 and 172).

Meanwhile, the title of the section refers to chess, a game in which words are practically unnecessary until the “check” and “mate” death knell at the end.  See note 137 for the source of this section’s title.

DYING WORDS range across a spectrum, from the deathless speech of the Sybil wanting to die (note 0.3) to the speechless death of the drowned sailor/hyacinth girl (lines 38-40, 47-48).  Rhetorical questions hang in the air (lines 111-134), souls sigh in limbo (lines 60-68), a riverbank weeper weeps (line 182) and a lovely woman sees death as her only escape (see line 253 and note 253).

There are allusions to the last words of Hamlet (line 128) and Ophelia (line 172), Agamemnon (line 198), Conrad's Kurtz (note 298), Webster's characters Flamineo (line 44) and the stabbed patient (line 118), and to tragic stories woven into tapestries (lines 97-110). There are also subtle allusions to the speechless deaths of Marie’s cousin Rudolph (lines 8-18), the Earl of Leicester’s wife Amy Robsart (line 279), the children of Lilith (line 159) and Eliot's friend Jean Verdenal (note 42).

See also the “little life” allusion at line 7, referring to the final speech at the end of Shakespeare, The Tempest (note 7).  For Prospero’s extended speech see The Tempest 4.1.148-154:

"Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And —like the baseless fabric of this vision—
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind.  We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."

But there is more: see, for starters, note 298 for the more enduring words of epitaphs.

Thursday, May 19

Moleskin 3.2: On To The Next River

With Dad trying hard to make our weekends special, we made a point to see and resee all the major Chicago attractions — two zoos, a half dozen museums, the lakefront, Wrigley Field — and we kept the tourist routine up long after we stopped feeling like out of towners. But let this scratchy record be reconciled: this was not our city. We didn’t live by that backwards river and we didn’t even reside in Chicago proper.  We lived along a drainage ditch in unincorporated Cook County, much closer to the Des Plaines River than Lake Michigan. As far as our distant cousins were concerned, we were still Chicagoans, and we preferred this tag over suburbanites, but in our neighborhood we made no claims. My newfound friends and I were content catching crayfish in the ditch and filling up our wagon with muddy water. We walked four blocks to school, when we didn’t find longer routes to take, and on weekends we rode our bikes on vacant lot dirt paths. I was still Huck Finn, a few miles out of town, and home was wherever I happened to live.

Wednesday, May 18


A celebration of the Springs
on the banks of the Suwannee River: the Day.

Lepornis Auritus, of the Breams
and the main course of many Southern fries: the Fish.

Inky black, purple and garnet
with rich plum, red currant, liquorice and oak: the Shiraz.

Indigenous to the Oz bushland
where the Angove family makes their wine: the Snake.

A vegetarian Piranha cousin
colossoma bidens to aquarians in the know: the Pacu.

A ranging fish in a narrow curving band
from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island west: the Dace.

A pet store Melanophryniscian
with fire and crickets in its belly: the Toad.

A hook-billed conure of the house
where men can talk, but hens just squawk: the Parrot.

A turtle with yellow lined head, neck and legs
called Cooter of the Chesapeake Bay: the Terrapin.

A South American quadroped
in a multimale-multifemale social system: the Tamarin.

An arboreal Guinean of Nigeria and Benin,
finding the wet parts of dry tropical forests: the Monkey.

Billardiere's pouched weasel,
a Pademelon to the Aborigines: the Wallaby.

An Amazonian revolving life around Mauritius Palms
with a reedy high-pitched scream: the Macaw.

A North American, pressing its torso to the trees,
showing red better in hand and up close: the Woodpecker.

And all that remains,
the solid biomass incompletely combusted: the Char.

Tuesday, May 17


A Passing Tribute To Robert Frost  

    The bird would cease and be as other birds
    But that he knows in singing not to sing.
    The question that he frames in all but words
    Is what to make of a diminished thing.
   — Robert Frost

I’ve traveled miles and miles to find a bird
That’s different than the usual sorts I see
To supplement the life list that I keep
(To know the lovely dark and deep)
And live beyond the world surrounding me.

The bird I seek may have a special song
Or brilliant feathers or a way about it
That separates it from the daily throng
(Persisted in the woods so long)
And justifies the miles that I’ve devoted.

Perhaps the place I go they call a bird
Exotic that’s so everyday to me
I hardly hear (lost in the sweep
Of easy wind) its ordinary cheep;
Its ordinary looks I barely see.

And in this place, they keep lists of their own
And travel miles and miles just to find
Within the dreary world from which I came
(Having perhaps the better claim)
The gardenful of birds I’ve left behind.

Monday, May 16

Fire And Water

When love sets fire
to your soul
and lifts it from its place
its foot no longer
touches ground;
love whispers,
the ground moves
and stagnant reasons
you are no longer there;
Your feet begin
to move, just as
a river finds the ocean
with no more talk
of searching; you
are nothing but the river
and there is nothing
in the end
but the ocean of God.

Sunday, May 15

Rhyme For Mother's Day

(to the tune of any Dylan song)

A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.
— Samuel Butler

A mother’s basic instincts start and stop with being there
And everything revolves around the children in her care:
The raising up, the rearing, the protecting and preparing.
She just keeps keeping on, with evolution in the air:
She gets no formal training anywhere;
Her nest is made, her eggs are laid and all she does is care.
You’ve got your theories and I’ve got mine
But God is in the details
  and the devil’s left behind.

The old brown hen and the old blue sky, 
Between the two we live and die...
— Wallace Stevens

She saw her mother do this from a different point of view;
The world was all around her then and everything was new:
The view itself, the air, the grass of green, the sky of blue,
The miles of horizon and a nagging hunger too,
And suddenly her mother coming through.
Nobody really told her what to do.
You’ve got your theories and I’ve got mine
But God is in the details
  and the devil’s left behind.

Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime.
— William Shakespeare

And now she is the mother, got it all down to an art.
She’s facing danger daily, but she plays her precious part:
The watch, the cry, the flash of passion, every stop and start
Instinctively designed and yet distinctively so smart,
And even when things seem to fall apart
She takes the stage and plays it from her heart.
You’ve got your theories and I’ve got mine
But God is in the details
  and the devil’s left behind.

If I were hanged on the highest hill, ...
If I were drowned in the deepest sea, ...
If I were damned of body and soul, 
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
— Rudyard Kipling

She cries out loud staccatos in a stuttered anti-phlegm
And then she starts performing her sublime dramatic gem:
The stumbled pace, the broken wing, the red beneath her hem,
To lead her looming enemies astray, away from them.
Some folks would automatically condemn
The way the mother has abandoned them.
You’ve got your theories and I’ve got mine
But God is in the details...

if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one.  It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses
— e. e. cummings

This is my rhyme for Mother’s Day, a silly killdeer song
With scant connection to the mothers I’ve known for so long:
The mother of my children, like my mother too, was strong
And not inclined to cry or play the fool when things went wrong
And yet when evil ever came along
I guess it never stayed around for long.
You’ve got your theories and I’ve got mine
But God is in the details
  and the devil’s left behind.

My mother is a poem
I’ll never be able to write,
though everything I write
is a poem to my mother.
— Sharon Doubiago

God is in the details...
— Anon.
(The author of this platitude nobody seems to know;
It’s randomly attributed to many people though:
To Flaubert, Nietzche, Einstein, even Michelangelo,
Le Corbusier, John Ruskin, or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
No one is certain but the truth will show,
Beyond all words and birds, everything we need to know.
You’ve got your theories and I’ve got mine
But God is in the details
  and the devil’s left behind.)

Saturday, May 14

My Own Translation

Preface to Flowers of Evil, by Charles Baudelaire

To the Reader

Stupidity, error, sin and stinginess
Busy our minds and grind our bodies down,
And we, like beggars nourishing their lice,
Keep our remorse in comfort and well-fed.

Our sins are stubborn, our confessions weak
And for admissions we demand a price;
Then, with a smile, we’re on our muddy way
Believing that cheap tears will make us clean.

We rest our heads upon an evil pillow
With Satan Trismegiste at the cradle,
And in the vapor of his chemistry
We lose the noble metal of our will,

And with the Devil as our babysitter
Charming us with his repulsive toys,
Each day we’re lured another step away
From fear, into the dark and stench of hell.

And like the poor bum who would kiss and nibble
The battered nipple of an ancient whore
We steal the secret pleasures of our passing
And squeeze the last drop from each shriveled orange.

Tightened, swarming, like a million tapeworms
Within us are the Demons who throw parties,
Dropping the breath of death into our lungs
Like an unseen river and a mute complaint.

If the artistry of rape, drugs, knives and fire
Has not yet stitched sweet lines into our souls,
Have pity on our empty canvases
And sorry fates: we are too cowardly,

And yet among the jackals, panthers, apes,
The bitches, scorpions, vultures, serpents, beasts,
Of all the vile menagerie of our vices
That bark, howl, grunt and crawl upon the ground,

There’s one more ugly, wicked and unclean
Who without dramatic gestures or great cries
Would easily turn our planet into trash
And swallow up the world with just a yawn:

See Boredom’s eye hold back a wanton tear
Welled up from gallows dreams and hookah smoke.
You’ve met him, reader, a consummated monster:
You! Hypocrite lecteur! My twin! My brother!

Friday, May 13

TWL, Lines 69-76: Seen in the Crowd: You!

69     There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying “Stetson!
70     “You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!
71     “That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
72     “Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
73     “Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
74     “Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
75     “Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!
76     “You! hypocrite lecteur! —mon semblable, —mon frère!”

69. STETSON, readers once believed, referred to Eliot’s friend Ezra Pound, who was known to wear the occasional Stetson cowboy hat and who, by being Eliot’s “lecteur,” or editor, was given the poem’s opening dedication. Eliot denied the Stetson-Pound connection but never gave a more satisfactory alternative, suggesting only that Stetson was not an actual person but a generic London banker with an arbitrarily common name. But there may be another more plausible explanation. In World War I, Australian troops, who would have been more associated with a naval battle and buried corpses than a London banker, wore felt Stetson hats, and it was among these troops at Gallipoli, where furloughed soldiers sang to Mrs Porter (see line 199), that Eliot’s friend Jean Verdenal died (see note 42).

70. THE BATTLE OF MYLAE (260 BCE) resulted in a Roman naval victory over Carthage, home of Aeneas’s onetime lover Queen Dido (see note 92).  In present tense, the battle is over and the surviving sailors are grounded.  Compare the return of troops at note 61, and see more references to Carthage at note 307.

71. THE PLANTED CORPSE: See 1 Corinthians 15: 37, 42-44:

“And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain ...So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:  It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.”

In a Moravian tradition begun in Germany and adopted in America, Easter Sunrise Service is held in a churchside graveyard called “God’s Acre,” with hyacinths decorating the graves where the bodies of the dead have been “sown as seed.”  See the legend of the hyacinth at note 36.  See also Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, God’s Acre (1866):

“With thy rude ploughshare, Death, turn up the sod,
 And spread the furrow for the seed we sow;
This is the field and Acre of our God,
 This is the place where human harvests grow!”

Compare Longfellow, Hyperion 2.9 (1836):

“...the green terrace or platform on which the church stands, and which, in ancient times, was the churchyard, or as the Germans more devoutly say, God's-acre; where generations are scattered like seeds.”

Thus, this Burial of the Dead section ends where it begins, with the possibility of stirring dull roots in spring.  The reader’s brother (mon semblable, mon frère) remains uncertain, though, and still perceives the season’s cruelty; he closes the section with questions and exclamations that are all earth, no air, water or fire.

74. KEEP THE DOG FAR HENCE: Eliot: “Cf. the Dirge in Webster’s White Devil.”

See Webster, The White Devil 5.4.96-105.  This is Cornelia’s song as she lay flowers around a corpse, giving the impression that she has lost her mind:

“Call for the robin-redbreast and the wren,
Since o'er shady groves they hover
And with leaves and flowers do cover
The friendless bodies of unburied men.
Call unto his funeral dole
The ant, the fieldmouse, and the mole,
To rear him hillocks that shall keep him warm
And, when gay tombs are robb'd, sustain no harm;
But keep the wolf far thence, that's foe to men,
For with his nails he'll dig them up again.”

Compare this to Ophelia’s final actions in Shakespeare, Hamlet 4.7.166-169:

“Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.”

See note 172. The “Long purples” in her garland are hyacinths; see notes 36 and 71.

76. HYPOCRITE LECTEUR: Eliot: “V. Baudelaire, Preface to Fleurs du Mal.”

See Baudelaire, Flowers of Evil: Au Lecteur (To the Reader (my own translation)):

“See Boredom’s eye hold back a wanton tear
Welled up from gallows dreams and hookah smoke.
You’ve met him, reader, the consummated monster:
You! Hypocrite lecteur! My twin! My brother!”

See also Eliot, The Lesson of Baudelaire (1921):

“All first-rate poetry is occupied with morality: This is the lesson of Baudelaire.  ...English poetry, all the while, either evaded the responsibility, or assumed it with too little seriousness. ...On the other hand, the poets ...who know a little French, are mostly such as could imagine the Last Judgement only as a lavish display of Bengal lights, Roman candles, catherine-wheels and inflammable fire-balloons.  Vous, hypocrite lecteur!”

For other takes on the hypocrite reader, see the fortune teller at note 55, and recall the editor’s role at note 69.  See also “you” as reader, at note 311.5.

LITERARY CRITICISM, a la Eliot as lecteur, is also discussed at notes 130, 165, 172.5, 331, 403, 417 and 419.

Thursday, May 12

Moleskin 3.1: Chicago

Chicago. Home and hub of the Midwestern Irish, who paint their river green every March; of traveling Poles, their collective numbers second only to Warsaw; of transplanted Mississippi Deltans, giving the city its own brand of blues.  Windy City. Second City. City on the Lake. Home of Al Capone and Ernie Banks, Mayor Daley and our very own Bozo the Clown. In 1972 it was where the Cubs were still freshly reeling from the Billy Goat curse, the Bears still answered to Papa George Halas, the Hawks had known Bobby Hull for 15 years and the young Bulls had their first fifty win season. History —the Chicago fire, the Haymarket Riots, the stockyards —was entering modern times: the El still looped around the heart of the city, but the Hancock defined the skyline and the Sears Tower was climbing above it, and further out, O’Hare was outpacing Midway. I heard all about it that first year of being a Chicagoan —the sassage accent, the skunk-onion story of the city’s name, the constant sound of politicians, the pride of being the beat of the Heartland.

Wednesday, May 11

Rush Hour

every day, Chicago, every morning we crawl
down your lethargic distressways, the rivers named
with dignity — the Stevenson, the Kennedy,
and all the paths aimed purposefully at your heart.
we want to beat with you; the coffee in our blood
would have us flow through these veins to offer you life

but every morning, Chicago, every day, life
is slow to start as each cell of our self must crawl
through the same veins/at the same time/with angry blood
meeting on that hour so insistently named—
unwittingly converging, en route to your heart,
with words, the very rush, of John F. Kennedy,

“countrymen, ask what you can do,” cried Kennedy,
speaking now to citizens, who choose to do life
by committing themselves to fuel a city’s heart
yet sacrificing themselves—to wit, their great crawl.
to you, Chicago, our commitment is duly named;
for you, Chicago, we submit this daily blood.

Tuesday, May 10

Two Hours On The Pecatonica

To my son, on his birthday

One mile down a winding river,
full of overhanging strains
and random estimates, the father
listens as his son complains,
“I’m never doing this again.
The water’s cold, the waves are high,
The stretch we’re on is longer than
you promised. Everything’s a lie!”
Two miles down a rending river,
with the surface rippling
less from flow than from the weather
blowing six weeks into spring,
now the boy turns his teen anger
everywhere at once, turns mad
to the boats and to the river,
to Wisconsin, to his dad.

Three miles down a bending river
making slow turns south and east
through rural hills and rustic pastures,
answering a prayer for peace,
and in time the boy turns quiet,
sullen still but out of breath,
paddling the waves in silence
having beat the horse to death.

Four miles down a wending river,
later in the afternoon
the sun comes out from undercover
like a mouse predicting June
and the boy from broken shadows
finds the words he hadn’t said
and the father smiles at the
son, as two boats forge ahead.

Five miles down a wand’ring river
muddy shores turn into rocky
bluffs that would defy the river’s
native title, what the Sauk
had called wet earth, but for the moment
man and boy behold the banks
that rise above them as they lumber
onward with unspoken thanks.

Six miles down a wondrous river
four deer running up the bluff,
a turkey flushing into flight,
an eagle soaring just above,
and then the son: “When this is over
and we bring our kayaks home
I guess you’re gonna chew me out for
all the things I’ve said and done.”

Seven miles down the river
a snapping turtle almost bites
the passing paddle, then the father:
“No, son, everything’s all right.
I will be glad when this is over,
proud of you and thrilled that we
could have this afternoon together,
happy you were here with me.”

Eight miles down a winsome river
on a stretch we’ve made our own,
from Blanchardville to Thunder Bridge,
but there’s an island halfway down,
and there’s a goose nest on the island,
and all along the muddy banks
the world is fishing, farming, hunting,
living with unspoken thanks.

Monday, May 9

Introduction To Two Hours

In two hours' time
we wrote a poem
spent time together
rode a river
and enjoyed the day

we committed that day to memory
shared a moment as son and father
followed a downstream flow
and appreciated the heart of spring

we sang a song along the way
learned to be more than old man and teenager
let the current carry us
and took the moment as our own

we established a record
built a relationship
ran the course
and made good time.

This one I will remember:
son and father in the same story,
riding that river to the pickup point
and making the day count.

A record.
A relationship.
A course to follow.
A time to keep.

Sunday, May 8

Movie Review Of The Bark River

This was a lazy river, an easy run
without resistance for those paddling
against the flow and gentle as the breeze
for those who want it breezy coming home.

It was a winding stream, each twist and turn
keeping the paddler’s journey interesting
but wide enough so that the water flows
around each bend in ordinary time.

It was a rural river with the smell
of fertile pastures just beyond the bank,
yet with rows of woods on either side it was,
for those who would prefer, a forest stream.

But in the end, and at the casting call,
this paddler’s lazy river was, for all
its wandering, a small town resident
with locals fishing at the final bend.

Saturday, May 7

A Sonnet, Defined

It makes me smile to write these fourteen lines
With structure, cadence, balance, pattern, pose
But I have learned that just one thing defines
A sonnet and determines how it flows
More than the number of its syllables,
More than its meter or the way it rhymes,
More than the measure of its parables
Dressed up in templates drawn from other times:
A sonnet is a river that appears
To trickle out of nowhere; it’s a stream
That cuts its path, a course that winds and veers
With more beneath its surface than would seem
But what defines the river most to me
Is how, in time, it brings me to the see.

Friday, May 6

TWL, Lines 60-68: The Flowing Crowd Of An Unreal City

60     Unreal City,
61     Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
62     A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
63     I had not thought death had undone so many.
64     Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
65     And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
66   Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
67     To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
68     With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

60. THE UNREAL CITY: Eliot: “Cf. Baudelaire:

‘Fourmillante cite; cite; pleine de rêves,
‘Ou le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant.’”

See Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal: Les Sept Vieillards  (The Flowers of Evil: The Seven Old Men, 1867, tr. James Huneker, 1919):

“O Swarming city, city full of dreams,
Where in full day the sceptre walks and speaks.”

The Unreal City recurs at lines 60, 207, 259 and 377, and see also notes 208, 209, 248, 259, 374 and 376.  Unreal or not, the City is also the name of London's long-standing financial district.

LONDON, the City and beyond, gets other nods at lines 60-66, 180, 207-208, 211-214, 258-260, 264, 275-276, 289, 293, 296 and 376, and see notes 66, 67, 69, 115, 209, 210, 215, 248, 258, 265, 266, 276, 283, 291, 293, 297 and 376.

61. THE BROWN FOG may allude to “the embrowned air” in Dante, Inferno 2.1:

“Day was departing, and the embrowned air
Released the animals that are on earth
From their fatigues; and I the only one

Made myself ready to sustain the war,
Both of the way and likewise of the woe,
Which memory that errs not shall retrace”

THE GREAT WAR, now known as World War I, casts its shadow throughout this poem; see also notes 15, 18, 70, 115, 139, 200, 291, 331, 374 and 419.  The crowd of lifeless city workers flows over the bridge, up the hill and down the street, with no mention of any water flowing under the bridge and only a brown fog above them. The human flow suggests a metaphor for the stream of dead and injured soldiers being sent home after the war.  See Whitman, Memories 6 (which in turn alludes to “the heads of the tired, miserable brothers” in Dante Inferno 32.21):

“With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the unbared heads”

63. DEATH’S UNDOING: Eliot: “Cf. Inferno III, 55-57:

‘si lunga tratta
di gente, ch’io non avrei mai creduto
che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.’”

See Dante Inferno 3.55-57:

“... so long a train
Of people, that I ne'er would have believed
That ever Death so many had undone.”

See also Inferno 3:35-36, 43-46, where Dante sees, at the gates of hell, how death has undone them by denying them:

“     ...the melancholy souls of those
Who lived withouten infamy or praise.

...And I: ‘O Master, what so grievous is
    To these, that maketh them lament so sore?’
    He answered: ‘I will tell thee very briefly.
These have no longer any hope of death...’”

Compare the Sybil’s wish to die at note 0.3: “‘I would that I were dead.’”

64. SIGHS AND THE DEATH OF AIR: Eliot: “Cf. Inferno IV, 25-27:

‘Quivi, secondo che per ascoltare,
non avea pianto, ma’ che di sospiri,
che l’aura eterna facevan tremare.’”

See Dante Inferno 4.25-27:

“There, as it seemed to me from listening,
Were lamentations none, but only sighs,
That tremble made the everlasting air.”

Dante and Virgil have now passed through the gates of hell and are entering a suspended state of Limbo and an even lower level of hopelessness; see Inferno 4:41-42:

“For such defects, and not for other guilt,
Lost are we and are only so far punished,
That without hope we live on in desire.”

Compare Eliot, Little Gidding (1942) 2:60-61:

“The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.”

Little Gidding would later be made part of Eliot’s Four Quartets (see note 0.5).

See also Heracleitus, On Nature (ca 475 BCE):

“Fire lives in the death of air; water lives in the death of earth;
and earth lives in the death of water.”

66. KING WILLIAM STREET runs from Lombard Street to London Bridge over the River Thames (see note 266).  Eliot worked at the Lombard end of King Williams’ Street as a Lloyd’s Bank clerk from 1917 to 1926, a “stopgap” to make ends meet.  See Eliot, Letters.  See also notes 67, 68, 69, 209 and 214 for other references to Eliot’s employment.

67.CHURCHES appear several times in this poem.  See lines 67 (St. Mary Woolnoth), 202 (voices in the dome), 265 (St. Magnus Martyr) and 389 (the empty chapel) and their corresponding notes.  See also note 71 (God’s Acre).

St. Mary Woolnoth Church is at the southeast corner of Lombard and King William Streets, just across the street from where Eliot worked.  The current structure was built in 1666, but the first Wilnotmaricherche dates back to 1191 and evidence of even earlier Roman and pagan worship at the site has been discovered beneath the building’s foundation.

68. NUMBER NINE: Eliot: “A phenomenon which I have often noticed.”

In passing, Eliot hears “a dead sound on the final stroke.“  The ninth hour is the start of the workday, but nine also marks  the hour of Jesus’s death, Beethoven’s ultimate symphony and the final circle of Dante’s Hell (see Inferno, Cantos 31-34).  Compare this to the first part of Eliot’s epitaph, at note 306: “In my beginning is my end.”